Knowledge Bank

news category created 7 February 2015 written by Dan Cox

Producer Mentor Scheme?

I would like to know if there are any mentoring opportunities available through the MPG or other organisation, that could provide advice and guidance to individuals such as myself working at their own studio. It would be great to receive support, guidance and advice from someone with more experience in the industry, in order to maximise potential. Apart from full/part-time education, online courses and advice for studios taking on an apprentice, I have not been able to find any mentoring opportunities. Any information or guidance would be gratefully received – thanks!

Richard Parsons
Rooflight Production, Bristol

The MPG provides an informal mentoring facility, but it’s aimed at those starting out in the industry, and attempting to learn by assisting working professionals.

The various events organised by the MPG provide opportunities to network and meet others with experience. If there are any specific topics you would suggest that MPG should focus on, Richard, then we should perhaps organise an event to highlight them and attract contributions from those members who are more experienced.

I tried to get something like this going a few years ago under the auspices of CPD (continuing personal development). It was aimed at younger engineers wishing to pick up some ideas and those working in education so they could catch up with the current techniques. The idea was based around an experiential weekend at a small studio and the first one we planned was called “Nowt So Strange As Folk” focussing on microphone choice and techniques when dealing with unusual instruments – in this case ones more often found in folk music. The emphasis would be on trying different combinations just to hear what does and doesn’t work – something we have precious little time to indulge in these days.

Unfortunately we only got one punter signing up and had to cancel. We had a number of others planned focussing on other aspects of recording – obviously the variations are endless.

There was a cost entailed but I feel that those providing the benefit of their experience should be properly remunerated.

Richard – could you provide a bit more detail on the subjects you feel you would most benefit from?

I informally mentor some young mix engineers/producers. Letting them bring tracks to master, if the mix is not good working with them to learn how to get it better, listening to other productions and teaching them the art of listening and working with refs. And general advise about business, studios, managers, artists etc, and just like having a cool auntie to go to when your feeling the struggle…..
I think it would be great to have a more structured way of mentoring our young generations, I find a lot of them are lost without direction, expecially after finishing studying.
The Grammy’s have a strong wing of mentoring, and the AES offer sessions as well.

Tony, your weekend that didn’t come off sounds like a great idea.

I’m a firm believer in training and education being a two way street. A great man called Paolo Freire once coined the idea of the teacher/student who works with the student/teacher. Maybe mentor/mentee and mentee/mentor would be a fruitful way to look at the potential here. I would probably pick up useful stuff as well as pass it on, that’s how I see it.

As an American and long time MPG member I’ve always felt that mentorship is even more pronounced in the British Recording Industry than in the States. I’m saying this having also been a member of the Producers and Engineers Wing of NARAS. Maybe because the US music industry is spread out to two coasts 3K miles from each other and in the UK most everything is in Greater London.

I always marveled at the mentorship and training that happened at the major studios in London that simply didn’t happen in the US. For better or worse that is all but over now, although Metropolis is doing something to keep that going and I think that’s great.

Back to Richard’s question. I’ve always found the MPG (and in all its previous forms) to be very helpful whenever I needed advice. I think the key is to have something specific. If you’re working on a specific project that is going somewhere, that can indeed benefit from the mentorship of one of the elders, and I use that word with great reverence, then get a hold of them and run it by them. You can bet if I was recording a hard rock album (I’m not, but if I was) I would be doing everything I could to get a hold of Tony Platt to see what he thinks.

When I first started out I had a girl group with a phenomenal lead singer, very unique powerful voice and CBS/Sony was showing great interest. So I sought out Robin Miller whose experience with Sade and CBS could uniquely advise me on what I was going through. Robin couldn’t have been more generous to me at a time when I could barely get arrested in the music business. It greatly helped me to focus on what I needed to focus on, with the help and perspective of someone that had been there with a massively successful act with a unique female voice.

The great Steven Sondheim has always said that he learned more about music in one afternoon being mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II, than he did in the following fifty years.

My advice is to be specific and seek out a mentor that has been there and done that in the genre of music you’re doing. Make sure your project is at a stage where mentorship can actually help, as you don’t want to waste anyone’s time, and be professional.

Looking forward to seeing everyone next Thursday.

Mentoring is always a good thing but as larger studios decline and the time honoured tape-op role is anachronistic that leaves the plethora of training and academic courses that profess (or sometimes purport) to give good studio practice a head start.
JAMES is the acknowledged route to accreditation and the APRS used to run courses and still tries but there is a problem with resources and focus that is being addressed at the present time (declaration of interest, I’m a director).
Surely the answer is for MPG and APRS to get together on this one and offer all members some highly targeted sessions on topics of member choice. This maximises benefit and minimises cost. I can immediately think of two; monitoring and recording acoustics.
CPD is a very good thing and I try to keep up with mine (as an IOA and ANC member) but in a largely non-academic profession (recording) that would need some work to gain credibility.

In de past I was asked quite often to listen to the work of other, younger engineers and producers but I came to the conclusion that it does not really work when you are only reviewing someone’s productions. I believe there is a much better way of supporting young talents and eager students or starters: have a good conversation and listen to music together, finding out why we (or one of us) enjoy music. As a young engineer I myself had the opportunity to listen and talk about music recording and other things in life with Onno Scholze, a truly great recording engineer, when I worked at Philips Classics. It still has a profound influence on my everyday work.

Nowadays I mentor a couple of young engineers and producers informally – we have a conversation once-in-a-while and sometimes we meet in the studio. As I mentioned above we often speak about music and songs but we also take some time to listen what equipment or a mix does to the sound of instruments and how it influences a performance when recording. Although I give some general advice or reveal some tricks it is not so much about teaching but more about experiencing, investigating and building confidence. As an example: one of these young people is now my part-time assistant and a good one. For this weekend I asked him to attend a recording session, but not to work (although he will help me with setting up) – only to watch and listen. I believe he will very much benefit from that experience and make him an even better assistant/engineer.

But it also works the other way around. As Giles is mentioning: it is a two way street. Not only these mentees have brought in new projects for me, but they share their experiences and sometimes refreshing thoughts and inform me about developments they see in music, especially how a their generation makes and “consumes” music.

Like Mandy, I think it would be helpful when we have some kind of post-education and mentoring structure.

Mandy – thanks for your comments. Do you have any links to the Grammy mentoring schemes?

Andy – you make some valid points and we have tried to address some of those shortcomings in the training system via JAMES. The apprenticeship scheme for instance. However, this needs real engagement by the studios – only 3 studios got involved with apprenticeships!

The most important missing factor for me in music industry education, whether on the job or at college, is the opportunity for upcoming engineers and producers to experience a wide range of techniques and approaches from a wide range of more experienced professionals. This is what those of us who trained up in the 70s and 80s benefitted from and it enabled us to a dot some ideas and reject others thereby building our own style and approach. I see too many younger engineers simply following the so called “good practice” they have been taught at college.

This is why I thought of the experiential weekends – so professionals could try things without the pressure of a session.

I agree that MPG & APRS could run some of these but they will need some organisation and there will be a cost attached, to hire musicians, studios etc and therefore either sponsorship (very thin on the ground these days) or payment from the attendees and that always seems to be the sticking point!

Tony, I think you hit it on the head about building your own style through a diversity of sessions, which in a school is not like the real world. Training as an assistant engineer “The old way” exposed us to a great diversity of clients and genre’s. Particularly starting out as low man on the pole, everything was thrown at us (from my experience), which allowed you to solve problems on the fly and get it done, develop naturally. You can’t learn that at school.

So, I think that people would greatly benefit from what you’ve explained, it does sound like a great idea.

People need to know it would be worth a reasonable fee to do it. The benefit would far outweigh a reasonable fee.

BTW I think the Grammy mentoring scheme “Grammy U” is aimed at students in music schools that are still in school and have yet to embark on a career, if I’m not mistaken.

It’s great to read so many supportive and encouraging replies, so thank you to everyone who has posted on this topic so far.
The initial question arose in relation to my own situation, but I aim to consider the needs of other members too.
I appreciate that it is the work of an individual to network and create their own opportunities in the music industry, but following the responses and suggestions above, I would like to offer the following ideas/suggestions for MPG members to consider:

1. Advice & guidance for those looking to establish relationships with publishers and record labels
2. Continuing professional development for ‘post-education’ engineers/producers
3. Opportunities for ‘entry level’ engineer/producer MPG members to assist on commercial studio/location sessions (either hands on or ‘watch & learn’)
4. Experiential weekends/workshops – hands on recording/production sessions with an established producer (affordable UK version of ‘Mix With The Masters’?)
5. Seminar/workshop focussing on contracts/legalities/copyright law that producers need to be aware of
6. Educating musicians about the benefits and role of a producer

If the MPG directors feel that some of the above suggestions could be taken forward, I could begin determining if there is enough interest/support for a particular topic. I would also be happy to help organise and pay to attend an MPG event.

Your item 6 is interesting Richard. For a number of years I contributed to Serious Management’s “Take Five” project which provided a year of mentoring for 8 “rising star” jazz musicians. My part was to run a 3 day seminar that I titled “Recording Techniques for the Musician”. These are all highly talented players who had a very sketchy understanding of how to exploit the recording studio. Many of them had home set-ups but bumbled along using them and were mostly dissatisfied with the results. Many of them were often frustrated in the studio by not being able to communicate what they wanted and generally they didn’t feel particularly in control of their recorded sound. The seminar addressed all of these issues. Sadly this element has been discontinued in favour of more business related modules but a number of the participants since I stopped doing it have elected to spend some of their mentoring budget on 1 to 1 sessions with me to have a greatly truncated version of the seminar.

I think their is a massive need for this too and it would strengthen the natural affinity between the production/engineering “community” and the musician’s “community”. Perhaps we could market this in some way in order to fund or subsidise some of the other ideas here?

A side note: Last couple of years I proposed a number of times to several educational organizations to set-up short introduction and advanced seminars regarding the use of the hybrid studio setup. The response in general was that the students were not willing to make time and effort for such seminars. I also proposed to send students to assist on several projects incl a free introduction afternoon to have a good chat and discover the studio. I was told that most students were too busy with their own projects. What has happened, since I was traveling 4 hours to be able to work on a sony digital editing system of one of my teachers at the same institute and have some one-on-one time with an experienced engineer? What has happened, since I was as happy as a baby copying cd’s in a closet at my favorite record company and having the opportunity to listen to the engineers and producers I admired so much?

Tony, you write “The most important missing factor for me in music industry education, whether on the job or at college, is the opportunity for upcoming engineers and producers to experience a wide range of techniques and approaches from a wide range of more experienced professionals.” I cannot agree more but at the same time: are students and institutions sufficiently aware that the real world is quite different from the school environment? Too many times I see ads from institutions promising careers as engineers, producers and even session musicians, too many times I’ve met students who think they are indeed fully prepared for a professional career when they leave school having mainly experience in using software.

Having the before-written in mind, would it be an idea to investigate whether the MPG could play a role in the curriculum of educating institutions offering seminars? There are several advantages: students and music institutions will obviously benefit from the knowledge of experienced MPG-members, students get a more down to earth idea about the music industry, institutions will be able strengthen and promote their curriculum, MPG-members are able to recognize the most talented students, the MPG itself will broaden their scope.

Joram, I think the picture you are describing is perhaps more relevant in Holland and indeed through Europe where music industry education is not part of mainstream university education but run be a few independent providers. MPG, in conjunction with APRS, PLASA, UK Screen, MMF, BASCA & IASIG, is heavily involved in monitoring and encouraging both students and providers via JAMES ( We accredit courses in the UK and contribute in many of the ways you suggest.

At the end of the day however only the enthusiasm of the individual will determine how useful this is!

Thanks for your info, Tony. In the Netherlands there are a few bachelor educational programs regarding music recording, sound design, music production, music management etc. However, I think you are very right that the involvement of other organizations is lacking. I will dive into the JAMES initiative a little more. Thanks again!